In June 2005, Lt. Michael P. Murphy and three fellow members of the Navy Seals were on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan when they were pinned down by a swarm of enemy fighters. Trapped in a steep ravine, they were unable to get a radio signal to call for help.
With the Americans suffering injuries, ammunition running low and roughly 100 Taliban fighters closing in, Lieutenant Murphy made a bold but fateful decision: He left the sheltering mountain rocks into an open area where he hoped to get a radio frequency.
He managed to make contact with Bagram Air Base, calling in his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force, even as he came under direct fire, according to a declassified Navy account of the battle.
He also was shot several times and died.
Today, President Bush will award Lieutenant Murphy, a team leader from Patchogue, the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award. Mr. Bush will present it to Lieutenant Murphy’s father and mother, Daniel and Maureen, in a ceremony scheduled to take place in the East Room.
Mr. Murphy said his son’s action in battle was typical of the sort of selflessness he displayed even as a child, recalling an episode when he got into a scrap with three bullies in middle school who tried to shove a disabled student in a locker.
“He just jumped in,” Mr. Murphy said, noting that it was the kind of action that led him and his former wife to refer to their oldest son as “the Protector” when he was a boy. “That was Michael’s way.”
Lieutenant Murphy, who was 29 and engaged, is the first member of the military to receive the medal for service in the war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq has produced two Medal of Honor recipients, most recently in January when Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, a recruit from upstate New York, received the award posthumously.
Early in his life, Lieutenant Murphy appeared to possess the qualities that would make him the kind of candidate sought by the Seals, an elite Navy unit known for daring, physical toughness and mental acuity.
He was a member of the National Honor Society in Patchogue-Medford High School, a lifeguard and a solid athlete. He attended Pennsylvania State University, where he played hockey and graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, in political science and psychology.
His options after graduating in 1998 were wide open, and he was accepted into several law schools. He chose to join the military and train to become a Navy commando. He attended the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., and then completed the Seals’ harsh training program and became a member of the Seals in April 2002.
It was a significant achievement for Lieutenant Murphy, who was not quite 6 feet tall, slight compared with the physically imposing members of the Seals. Each year, 50 to 200 sailors graduate from the training program. The dropout rate is 74 percent, according to the Navy.
His final mission was on June 28, 2005, when he led a four-man Seal unit searching for a Taliban leader behind enemy lines. The Americans were spotted about 24 hours after being dropped in a mountainous stretch of eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, according to the Navy. A firefight erupted. The Americans, vastly outnumbered, took cover in the steep slopes as the batted raged for more than two hours.
But then, according to Hospital Corpsman Marcus Luttrell, the unit’s only survivor that day, Lieutenant Murphy made his way toward the exposed ridge between the mountains, making him an easy target. “I was cursing at him from where I was,” he recalled in an interview. “I was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ Then I realized that he was making a call. But then he started getting hit. He finished the call, picked up his rifle and started fighting again. But he was overrun.”
The call placed by Lieutenant Murphy led American commanders to dispatch a small rescue force that included an MH-47 Chinook helicopter with eight Seals members and eight Army special operations soldiers. But a rocket-propelled grenade struck the slow-moving helicopter as it approached, killing all 16 men aboard. Lieutenant Murphy and two others in his unit were killed in the firefight. Corpsman Luttrell escaped, and took refuge in a village until he was rescued several days later.
Corpsman Luttrell and the other two men who were killed, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz and Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, all received the Navy Cross.
Mr. Bush approved Lieutenant Murphy’s nomination for the medal on Oct. 11, more than two years after his commanders recommended him for an award to recognize his actions in battle.
Since the medal was created during the Civil War, it has been bestowed on more than 3,400 soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Lieutenant Murphy is the first member of the Navy to receive the medal since the Vietnam War, a Navy spokesman said.
In an interview, Daniel Murphy said that he was not surprised to learn about his son’s actions. “What Maureen and I always worried about was that he would put himself in danger to help someone else, which turned out to be true,” he said.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Being that the NYT finally got around to it - so shall I. Lieutenant Mike Murphy, United States Navy, CMOH.